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The Orgasm Gap: The Real Reason Women Get Off Less Often Than Men and How to Fix It

The gap between men’s and women’s frequency of orgasm is impacted by social forces that privilege male pleasure.

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Some new data reveal just how context dependent rates of orgasm really are.  Sociologist  Elizabeth Armstrong and colleagues analyzed  quantitative data on the likelihood of orgasm among about 15,000 heterosexual college students.  The graph below shows the likelihood that men and women will orgasm in first “hookups” (a casual sexual encounter with a friend, stranger, or acquaintance), higher order hook ups (the second or third and four or more), and relationships. 

The far left bar in both sets shows that the orgasm gap between men and women the first time they become sexual with one another reflects the national average: women have one for every three men have. But the chance that either will have an orgasm increases when they hook up a second time, and a third, and so on. And the orgasm gap shrinks too: from 3.10 for every one of hers in first time hook ups, to 2.53:1 in second and third hookups, to 2.06:1 in fourth and further hookups, to 1.25:1 in relationships. Women in relationships, then, are having almost seven times as many orgasms as women hooking up for the first time and the orgasm gap has shrunk by more than half.

But that’s even not the really fantastic data. 

The next graph, looking only at women now, adds another variable: whether the sexual encounter included three different activities: oral sex performed on the female partner, intercourse, or female self-clitoral stimulation. The wide range in the data -- from a 15% chance of orgasm on the far left to a 92% chance on the far right -- is what is truly stunning. Both additional hookups and additional activities tend to increase her rate of orgasm. When couples in relationships engaged in all three activities, women’s rates of orgasm become nearly universal and almost converge with men’s. Men in that situation have an orgasm 96% of the time, so the orgasm gap has shrunk to 1.04:1.

Elizabeth Armstrong and her colleagues conclude that women’s orgasm rates are strongly related to her evolving relationship with her partner, the activities they include, and his investment in her pleasure. Qualitative research on men’s motivations confirm the last piece.  “I’m all about making her orgasm,” said a man interviewed for their study. “The general her or like the specific her?” he was asked.  “Girlfriend her,” he responded, “In a hookup her, I don’t give a shit.”

Women know the difference. Said one: "When I... meet somebody and I’m gonna have a random hookup... from what I have seen, they’re not even trying to, you know, make it a mutual thing."

Expecting an orgasm from a male hookup partner is even seen as demanding and rude. One woman explained how she felt like she didn’t have the “right” to ask for an orgasm: "I didn’t feel comfortable I guess. I don’t know. I think I felt kind of guilty almost, like I felt like I was kind of subjecting [guys] to something they didn’t want to do and I felt bad about it."

Out of nerves, insecurity, or a lack of entitlement, women often prioritize men’s pleasure too. Speaking of hookups, one woman insists: “I will do everything in my power to, like whoever I’m with, to get [him] off.”  My own research confirms that college women often fully accept that hookups usually don’t include orgasms for women. “Even if I was in charge,” said one, “I did not make sure I was being pleased.” “The guy kind of expects to get off,” said another, “while the girl doesn’t expect anything.”

Reflecting the quantitative data, women in relationships often feel very differently. They may feel entitled to orgasm and certain that their partners are concerned with their pleasure: "I know that he wants to make me happy. I know that he wants me to orgasm. I know that, and like just me knowing that we are connected and like we’re going for the same thing and that like he cares."

 
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